Offensive: Is it possible to have a returning Heisman Trophy winner at running back, yet not miss a beat if the backup player is inserted? At Alabama, that’s the case. The Crimson Tide will undoubtedly revolve around junior Mark Ingram (1,658 rushing yards, 17 touchdowns), one of the nation’s premier ball-carriers. But when sophomore Trent Richardson (751 rushing yards, eight touchdowns) is inserted into the lineup — he'll get the start in the opener with Ingram sidelined by a knee injury — there’s no drop-off. The offense is orchestrated by senior quarterback Greg McElroy, who hasn’t lost as a starter since the eighth grade. He rarely makes a big mistake. And he has the luxury of his top three receivers, led by junior Julio Jones, returning to the lineup. The line has three returning starters, including sophomore guard Barrett Jones, who has the look of an All-SEC performer.
Defensive: Nine starters are gone — either through graduation or moving to the NFL — but don’t be too concerned. Alabama has been stockpiling defensive talent, and it’s simply a matter of making a successful transition. Junior linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who has returned from a season-ending knee injury last September, has shifted to the middle. He will take over the play-calling and leadership role of Rolando McClain, one of the all-time Alabama greats. Junior strong safety Mark Barron, who led the SEC with seven interceptions, anchors the secondary. It’s a new set of starters along the line, but junior defensive end Marcell Dareus made his presence known with a team-leading 6 1/2 sacks in a reserve role. On the interior, senior Luther Davis and junior Josh Chapman have enough experience to compensate for the formidable personnel losses.
Specialists: Cade Foster, one of the nation’s top recruits at place-kicker, is expected to take over for the departed Leigh Tiffin, who made 30 of 35 field-goal attempts last season. The bigger task is finding a return man to replace Arenas, one of the best in SEC history. Richardson and Jones, two of the offensive stalwarts, will be the best options.
Coaching: Nick Saban sits at the top of his profession. He has restored order in Alabama’s program, setting an unmistakable tone of dominance in the nation’s most competitive conference. The recruiting has been upgraded to a high level and Saban has a handle on managing the program’s massive expectations. For years, Alabama’s head coaches always were compared to Bear Bryant. Now everyone in the nation looks to what Saban has built in Tuscaloosa. It’s the gold standard.
Heisman hopefuls: Could Ingram, the first Heisman winner in Alabama history, join former Ohio State great Archie Griffin as the only two-time Heisman winner? The odds say no, but Ingram again will put up big numbers for a high-profile team that could finish unbeaten.
Overview: Even though defensive personnel losses have raised a red flag, Alabama is ranked No. 1 in both the AP and coaches' polls and looks rough and ready to defend its SEC title and play for another national championship. The pressure will be taken away by an offense that has a ball-control, mistake-free personality. The schedule has a few potential potholes — including a non-conference home date against Penn State and an early season trip to Arkansas, part of a loaded SEC West slate — but Alabama is up to the task. Saban’s program is built to last.
Next up: No. 2 Ohio State
CFT: Senior receiver Wilson Van Hooser is transferring from Tulane to help care for his ailing mother.
DPS: Alabama head coach Nick Saban was recently trash-talked by colleagues, and he tells Dan Patrick he wishes he was spoken to in private prior to the insults.
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Saban hurt by colleagues' comments?
DPS: Alabama head coach Nick Saban was recently trash-talked by colleagues, and he tells Dan Patrick what he think of these comments.
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